|2nd Secretary-General of the United Nations|
10 April 1953 – 18 September 1961
|Preceded by||Trygve Lie|
|Succeeded by||U Thant|
Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld
29 July 1905
Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld (// HAM-ər-shuuld, Swedish: [ˈdɑːɡ ˈhâmːarˌɧœld] ⓘ; 29 July 1905 – 18 September 1961) was a Swedish economist and diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961. As of 2023, he remains the youngest person to have held the post, having been only 47 years old when he was appointed. He was a son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, who served as Prime Minister of Sweden from 1914 to 1917.
Hammarskjöld's tenure was characterized by efforts to strengthen the newly formed UN both internally and externally. He led initiatives to improve morale and organisational efficiency while seeking to make the UN more responsive to global issues. He presided over the creation of the first UN peacekeeping forces in
Hammarskjöld was and remains well regarded internationally as a capable diplomat and administrator, and his efforts to resolve various global crises led to him being the only
Early life and education
Dag Hammarskjöld was born in Jönköping to the noble family Hammarskjöld (also spelled Hammarskiöld or Hammarsköld). He spent most of his childhood in Uppsala. His home there, which he considered his childhood home, was Uppsala Castle. He was the fourth and youngest son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, Prime Minister of Sweden from 1914 to 1917.
Hammarskjöld studied first at Katedralskolan and then at Uppsala University. By 1930, he had obtained Licentiate of Philosophy and Master of Laws degrees. Before he finished his law degree he had already obtained a job as Assistant Secretary of the Unemployment Committee.
From 1930 to 1934, Hammarskjöld was Secretary of a governmental committee on unemployment. During this time he wrote his economics thesis, "Konjunkturspridningen" ("The Spread of the Business Cycle"), and received a doctorate from Stockholm University. In 1936, he became a secretary in Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank. From 1941 to 1948, he served as chairman of the Riksbank's General Council.
Hammarskjöld quickly developed a successful career as a Swedish public servant. He was state secretary in the Ministry of Finance 1936–1945, Swedish delegate to the Organization for European Economic Cooperation 1947–1953, cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1949–1951 and minister without portfolio in Tage Erlander's government 1951–1953.
He helped coordinate government plans to alleviate the economic problems of the post-World War II period and was a delegate to the Paris conference that established the Marshall Plan. In 1950, he became head of the Swedish delegation to UNISCAN, a forum to promote economic cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries. Although Hammarskjöld served in a cabinet dominated by the Social Democrats, he never officially joined any political party.
In 1951, Hammarskjöld was vice chairman of the Swedish delegation to the
United Nations Secretary-General
Nomination and election
On 10 November 1952,
The superpowers hoped to seat a Secretary-General who would focus on administrative issues and refrain from participating in political discussion. Hammarskjöld's reputation at the time was, in the words of biographer
Journalist: "We understand you've been designated Secretary-General of the United Nations."
Hammarskjöld: "This April Fool's Day joke is in extremely bad taste: it's nonsense!"
–Exchange between a Stockholm journalist and Hammarskjöld, 1 April 1953
On 31 March 1953, the
With strong feeling personal insufficiency I hesitate to accept candidature but I do not feel I could refuse to assume the task imposed on me should the [UN General] Assembly follow the recommendation of the Security Council by which I feel deeply honoured.
Later in the day, Hammarskjöld held a press conference at the Swedish Foreign Ministry. According to diplomat Sverker Åström, he displayed an intense interest and knowledge in the affairs of the UN, which he had never shown any indication of before.
The UN General Assembly voted 57-1-1 on 7 April 1953 to appoint Dag Hammarskjöld as Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarskjöld was sworn in as Secretary-General on 10 April 1953. He was unanimously reelected on 26 September 1957 for another term, taking effect on 10 April 1958.
Immediately following the assumption of the Secretariat, Hammarskjöld attempted to establish a good rapport with his staff. He made a point of visiting every UN department to shake hands with as many workers as possible, eating in the cafeteria as often as possible, and relinquishing the Secretary-General's private elevator for general use.
During his term, Hammarskjöld tried to improve relations between
In 1960, the newly independent Congo asked for UN aid in defusing the Congo Crisis. Hammarskjöld made four trips to Congo, but his efforts toward the decolonisation of Africa were considered insufficient by the Soviet Union; in September 1960, the Soviet government denounced his decision to send a UN emergency force to keep the peace. They demanded his resignation and the replacement of the office of Secretary-General by a three-man directorate with a built-in veto, the "troika". The objective was, citing the memoirs of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, to "equally represent interests of three groups of countries: capitalist, socialist and recently independent".
The UN sent a nearly 20,000-strong peacekeeping force to restore order in
His final report to the United Nations was some 6,000 words and is considered to be one of his most important. The report was dictated in single afternoon to his assistant, Hannah Platz.
On 18 September 1961, Hammarskjöld was en route to negotiate a
The circumstances of the crash are still unclear. A 1962 Rhodesian inquiry concluded that pilot error was to blame, while a later UN investigation could not determine the cause of the crash. There is evidence suggesting the plane was shot down. A CIA report claimed the KGB was responsible.
The day after the crash, former U.S. President
In 1998, documents surfaced suggesting CIA,
Göran Björkdahl, a Swedish aid worker whose father worked for the UN in Zambia, wrote in 2011 that he believed Hammarskjöld's death was a murder committed, in part, to benefit mining companies like
In 2014, newly declassified documents revealed that the American ambassador to the Congo sent a cable to Washington D.C. warning that the plane could have been shot down by Belgian mercenary pilot Jan van Risseghem, commander of the small Katanga Air Force. Van Risseghem died in 2007.
On 16 March 2015, United Nations Secretary-General
In 2016, the original documents from the 1998 South African investigation surfaced. Those familiar with the investigation cautioned that even if authentic, the documents could have been initially authored as part of a disinformation campaign.
In 2017, Airplane Disasters Series 9, Episode 10: "Deadly Mission" analyzed the crash, hypothesizing that the pilot attempting the night landing simply flew into an uncharted hill near the airport.
In 2019, the documentary film Cold Case Hammarskjöld by Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger claimed that Jan van Risseghem had told a friend that he shot down Hammarskjöld's aircraft. This went against the official stance maintained by van Risseghem's family that he was not involved in the death of Hammarskjöld. According to an interview with van Risseghem's wife, he was in Rhodesia negotiating the purchase of a plane for the Katanga Air Force, with the logbooks providing "proof that he was not flying for Katanga at the time". The documentary crew interviewed multiple colleagues of van Risseghem's for the film, all of whom supported their theory. In an interview with Swedish historian Leif Hellström, van Risseghem claimed that he was not in southern Africa at the time the crash happened, and dismissed the idea of his being potentially involved as "fairy stories".
Previously unpublished documents continue to emerge from UN or national archives. One found in France amidst the Fonds Focccart (National Archives in Pierrefitte) in November 2021 is a death warrant for Hammarskjöld signed by the infamous OAS, the secret organisation nestled in the French army at the time of Algeria's war of independence. The document reads: "It is high time to put an end to his harmful intrusion ... this sentence common to justice and fairness to be carried out, as soon as possible". The source was revealed by French journalist Maurin Picard, according to whom the links between the white mercenaries in Katanga and OAS are overt.
In 1953, soon after his appointment as United Nations Secretary-General, Hammarskjöld was interviewed on radio by Edward R. Murrow. In the talk, Hammarskjöld declared:
But the explanation of how a man should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics [Jan van Ruysbroek] for whom 'self-surrender' had been the way to self-realization, and who in 'singleness of mind' and 'inwardness' had found the strength to say yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbours made them face, and to say yes also to every fate life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty as they understood it.
Hammarskjöld's only book, Vägmärken (Markings, or more literally Waymarks), was published in 1963. A collection of his diary reflections, the book starts in 1925, when he was 20 years old, and ends the month before his death in 1961. This diary was found in his New York house, after his death, along with an undated letter addressed to then Swedish Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Leif Belfrage. In this letter, Hammarskjöld wrote:
These entries provide the only true 'profile' that can be drawn ... If you find them worth publishing, you have my permission to do so.
Markings was described by the late theologian Henry P. Van Dusen as "the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal faith written ... in the heat of professional life and amidst the most exacting responsibilities for world peace and order". Hammarskjöld wrote, for example:
We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it – according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed – according to the measure of his purity of heart.
Markings is characterised by Hammarskjöld's intermingling of prose and
In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.
Hammarskjöld's interest in philosophical and spiritual matters is also proven by the finding of Martin Buber's main work I and Thou, which he was translating into Swedish, in the wreckage after the plane crash.
Brian Urquhart's biography of Hammarskjöld addressed what Israel Shenker described in his The New York Times review as "the oft-discussed question of Hammaskjöld's sexuality". Urquhart reports that Trygve Lie spread rumours of Hammarskjöld's homosexuality but, having interviewed Hammarskjöld's close friends, Urquhart concludes that "no one who knew him well or worked closely with him thought he was a homosexual". Shenker infers from Urquhart's work "that Hammarskjöld was an example, not unique in contemporary politics, of an asexual, somewhat narcissistic individual" and quoted private papers where Hammarskjöld had written that "the Secretary General of the UN should have an iron constitution and should not be married". Despite Urquhart concluding the rumours were inaccurate, Larry Kramer included Hammarskjöld in the "I belong to a culture" speech in his 1985 play The Normal Heart.
- Honorary degrees:
- John F. Kennedy: After Hammarskjöld's death, U.S. president John F. Kennedy regretted that he had opposed the UN policy in the Congo and said: "I realise now that in comparison to him, I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century."
- In 2011, The Financial Times wrote that Hammarskjöld has remained the benchmark against which later UN Secretaries-General have been judged.
- Buildings and rooms:
- Dag Hammarskjöld Library: On 16 November 1961, shortly after his death, the newly completed Library building at United Nations Headquarters in New York was named the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
- Stanford University: Dag Hammarskjöld House, on the Stanford University campus, is a residence cooperative for undergraduate and graduate students with international backgrounds and interests at Stanford.
- Hammarskjold High School: Public high school located in the town of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
- Hammarskjold Middle School: Public middle school located in the town of East Brunswick, New Jersey.
- Dag Hammarskjöld Elementary School: Public elementary school located in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York.
- Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Primary School: Government School located in Ndola, Zambia (adjacent to the Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Crash Site). This School contains the Karl Eriksson Computer Lab (Hammarskjöld and Eriksson knew each other).
- Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation: In 1962, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation was created as Sweden's national memorial to Dag Hammarskjöld.
- Memorial awards:
- Nobel Peace Prize: The Nobel Foundation posthumously awarded Dag Hammarskjöld the 1961 Nobel Peace Prize for developing the UN according to the UN Charter.
- Medal: On 22 July 1997, the UN peacekeeping operations.
- Prize in Peace and Conflict Studies: Colgate University annually awards a student the Dag Hammarskjöld Prize in Peace and Conflict Studies based on outstanding work in the program.
- Postage stamps: Many countries issued postage stamps commemorating Hammarskjöld.
- On 6 April 2011, Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank, announced that Hammarskjöld's image would be used on the 1000-kronor banknote, the highest-denomination banknote in Sweden. The new currency was introduced in 2015.
Depictions in music and popular culture
The Australian-British composer
Hammerskjöld is one of the names mentioned in the "I belong to a culture" speech in Larry Kramer's 1985 play The Normal Heart, where the protagonist includes him in 24 names of historical gay figures.
In the 2016 film
The 1961 Ndola Transair Sweden DC-6 crash was featured by the actor Peter James Howarth portrayed Dag Hammarskjöld in the Canadian TV series Mayday Season 15: Episode 5 (2016) called "Deadly Mission".
- The nomination was leaked early by a delegate of the Security Council, who informed a correspondent of the vote as they left the council chamber to go to the restroom. Earlier in March, Hammarskjöld had discussed the succession problem of the UN Secretariat with artist Bo Beskow. When Beskow suggested that Hammarskjöld would be suitable for the office, the latter replied, "Nobody is crazy enough to propose me—and I would be crazy to accept."
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